That soldier is me
had been some years before I met him. F. and three other youngsters like
him, 16.5-19 years-old at the time, sitting at the foot of the wall that
was being constructed just then, and thinking about how theyíd topple
the Israeli regime.
They were all born in Qalandiya refugee camp.
One idea was to throw grenades at the checkpoint. But they didnít know
how to make grenades. The second idea was to prepare lots of Molotov
cocktails and hurl them with a slingshot instead of stones. But then R.
said that the fire would go out immediately and it wasnít worth it.
Another idea was to place explosives inside tires and then roll them at
the soldiers going off on their usual hunting sprees around the camp.
But they didnít know how to prepare explosives either, nor was there
anyone who could teach them.
Finally they decided to blast the Apartheid wall. They concluded that in
the near future they should learn how to prepare some serious
explosives. After theyíll learn how, theyíd prepare a large quantity,
and place the first Ďinstallmentí right where they were sitting. They
marked the spot with some large stones which they dragged over there
And after placing the explosives, they told each other, the wall would
blow up, and thatís how everyone would know that Palestinians donít
And after discussing their far-reaching plans they went home. And
actually forgot about it all. Because they didnít really know what to do
or how. And they were young and happy in spite of it all.
Two months later soldiers came in the night and picked up F., who was
17.5 years-old at the time.
I was asleep, he told me, and then heard this loud boom because they
broke down the door. And I was terribly scared. There were yells for
everyone go get into one room. M. and R. had not been born yet. I was
barefoot, he went on. We were all barefoot. Only Mom wore slippers.
There were ten soldiers, I think. One of them spoke Arabic but was no
Arab. And then he yelled for us to bring him all our IDs. And only Mom
and Dad and I had IDs. E. didnít have one although he had already turned
16, the rest were little. Dad handed him the IDs.
Then they called out my name, F. And Mom yelled ďNo!Ē and ran and hung
on to the soldier. My dad chased and held her and said to the soldier,
ďDonít kill her!Ē because just half-a-year earlier Umm Bilal jumped at
the soldier who took her son and the soldier gave her a blow and she had
a stroke and died.
And the soldier laughed. I remember him laughing because they had black
paint on their faces so when he laughed his teeth were so white.
F. was tried for attempting to blow up Qalandiya Checkpoint. And was
sentenced to three years in Damoun Prison. The rest of the boys got
It was difficult but not terrible, he said when I asked him. Itís only
hard in the interrogations, he added. They beat you up and harass you,
and soÖ But in prison it wasnít so bad. The food isnít that good. And
not enough. And I had no money for the canteen. And I learned Hebrew,
and English too. Because the older guys there gave us lessons.
But the most difficult thing was not seeing his family, he said. His
mother received a visitorís permit twice in that whole period of time,
and his father didnít get one at all, nor his brother E. Only his two
little sisters H. and S. who came every few months.
A year before he was scheduled for release, his father was diagnosed
with lung cancer. And F. became restless and quarreled all the time. At
first he was placed in isolation for two weeks and even there he would
pace and yell all the time, so he was brought in for a talk with the
Shabak captain who would come to the jail. Heís called Captain Aiman but
thatís not his name, F. said. Nor is he Arab.
The captain told him he could get out even the next day and be with his
dad, because heís a good guy who got in trouble and the captain knows
it. F. said nothing and waited because he already knew there are no free
handouts there, so he was given a cigarette and took it, and coffee, and
then the captain said: Thereís a lot of trouble at the checkpoint, not
good kids like yourselves who only got in trouble. I only need someone
to tell me who sends them. Theyíre poor kids, believe me, they come to
me and say they donít want to be like that. Theyíre only told to go to
the checkpoint and throw stones.
And I told him I donít care about all of that, and Iíll stay in jail, I
donít want this, and I donít need anything, and Iím not a ĎjasusĒ (spy,
And then he said, but youíre sitting here because of a jasus.
And I said, yes, and you want me to end up like that jasus will end up
after people find out who it was?
And he said, that jasus is your brother.
And I got up and tried to hit him and the two guys who were in that room
with him grabbed me and beat me up until I passed out.
And I remembered how his little brother went to the checkpoint and said,
I came to kill a Jew, and I understood it all.
That he had tried to come away clean. It was his way of expressing
regret for what heíd done. For what heíd been pushed to do. And because
of that he wanted no help in court. No relief. And he kept saying he
wants to end up in jail ďto be with my brother and kill whoever got him
And F. says that afterwards he was in a bad way. He kept quiet a lot.
And was sad. And when he went home he wasnít glad. And then one day he
suddenly realized that he had to forgive him, forgive his brother. And
he did. And got up. And looked for work and began to help at home and
planned to go study medicine in Russia because at that time they were
still giving Palestinians scholarships, and we also met a little later.
On that day there was a demonstration at Qalandiya. I think it had some
theme. It was lately. A Nakbah Day demonstration or right after Mahmoud
Abbas declared a state, or the Day of Rage, anyway not too long ago. But
it happens so often there. And theyíre not really demonstrations in the
usual sense.. On one side stand the Occupation soldiers with their
helmets and guns and cocky callousness and love of war. On the other
side they are faced with children and boys and stones from Qalandiya
refugee camp and nameless anger and radiant youth.
And so soldiers shoot and children and boys from the camp throw stones.
For years now. And if for some reason the boys stop throwing stones, the
soldier shoot to arouse them. And they do. And the soldiers shoot some
more. Aiming directly. Close range. Because they may and can. And with
the years this is how they have been killed, one by one Ė 14-year old
Omar Matar, 12.5 year-old Ahmad Abu Latifa, the brothers Samer and
Yassar KusbaÖ and all the others. Because this is Occupation.
And then I saw two little brothers of his. M. and A. And A., who is a
really tiny child stood with a stone he could hardly grip in his little
hands. And I was a bit worried because they were really small and it is
so dangerous, but I kept still, for what could I say to them. And isnít
it their right to resist evil in their own way, and this is their
But there was one really difficult moment in which a much older man than
the boys came out of his house, one of the houses along the alley above
the main road heading out from the checkpoint towards Ramallah. He began
walking towards the main road, slowly, his back to the soldiers standing
in a row with their guns pointed, right next to the home of Fatma and
Sami Asad. I was saying to myself that the soldiers must be looking with
their binoculars and seeing him coming out of that house, that he
doesnít belong to the group demonstrating, that he is not in this even
for them, who see any resistance to the Occupation as a crime, and that
heís not young Ė when the bullet hit his back. And like in the movies,
his body shook a bit, he kept walking another step or two, rocking, his
eyes sinking into themselves, his legs toppling like cards, and he
collapsed and fell. Red crescent medics ran to him and picked him up.
The siren of the ambulance speeding towards Ramallah blasted the sky for
And I have no idea what happened to him.
I phoned F. because even if his little brothers have a right to take out
their just anger at uninhibited Occupation soldiers, still it was so
dangerous that I couldnít help it. He said he was coming and actually
did right away, several moments later.
And the soldier were sniping mercilessly, at everyone. And he found
them, his brothers, and said to them, come on boys, and they smiled at
their big, strong and successful brother. And they immediately left the
demonstration and joined him. All four of us got away from the teargas
and the gunfire, and walked up the hill towards the road to Ramallah
until we were real far from it all, and sat down on a low wall by the
And first I spoke. About those soldiers. About their being like cattle.
To go and do whatever theyíre told and shelter behind big empty words
like ďdefenseĒ and ďsacrificeĒ and ďdutyĒ, when all that motivates them
is a lust for togetherness, and firing guns no matter at whom, and
because thatís what is the accepted norm and socially lucrative, nothing
That they donít see humans. Only faceless symbols. And that I wish
theyíd all go to prison, I told F. Every single one of them. And I spoke
of their mothers who collaborate. That it is a clichť of love, not love
itself Ė to stand by as their son goes to the army. And not only going
off to hurt another people just because it is Ďotherí, but to risk his
And after speaking constantly for a while, we fell silent. And while we
were silent he sent one of the kids to get us something to drink and
falafel. And then he said to me:
Aya, just so you know, those Israeli soldiers whom you badmouth so much,
they are me.
That soldier is me, too. And I raised my face in wonder.
When I threw stones at soldiers, wasnít I like that? Battle-happy, no
matter what for? Out for the action, because it was the popular thing to
do, and the norm, and what everyone did?
But those soldiers hold guns. They maintain the checkpoint that prevents
your family from having a life. Over land that was taken by force from
your relatives. And they represent and enforce a policy of theft and
transfer, and state terrorism. They are not everyman. They do not
Itís all true, youíre right, he said after some thought. Itís true,
theyíre unjust, I am more in the right. Because Iím acting in
self-defense, and theyíre on the offense. But still I think that when I
was throwing stones at soldiers, I threw because that was what we all
did then, and it was fun and risky.
And I think that this soldier too does what heís doing especially when
itís what everyone does, and because itís fun and risky. And he would
have done good things too and opposed the bad things, if that was what
everyone around him would have done.
Itís only by chance that he was sent out to serve the Occupation.
Okay, I say, but still itís not the same thing, fighting your assailant
and fighting someone you assault. You donít really think itís the same
thing, soldiers and non-soldiers?
And he said, sure thereís a difference. Like I said, itís different as
far as what is right is concerned. Thereís the occupier and the
occupied. Theyíre not right, and we are. Thatís obvious. Itís not a war
of equals. These are people who came to us, we didnít come to them. From
the beginning theyíre telling us, not here, this is not yours, and they
kill and chase and shoot and take our lives and our health and our work
and land and justice. And we have a right to resist this, and itís our
And gunfire and throwing stones are not the same thing, either.
But the human being, heís little. This oneís little and so is that one.
Only in a history test they say Wehrmacht serving the Nazis is bad, and
the attack of the Allies on Dresden is good. This soldier is good and
that one, bad. This one serves justice and that one serves
injustice. But if I look at it from the human beingís point of view, I
think that this is the soldier serving the norms of his time, and that
one is the soldier serving the norms of his time.
But, F., I insisted, perhaps the motivation to be a soldier serving the
State is similar under all regimes, and itís not because the regime is
this kind and not another that the youngster is attracted to the
battlefield, and would be attracted to any battle at all, even for a
less wrongful ideology. But when you were throwing stones it wasnít the
same thing. Itís not army. Itís spontaneous resistance to those who
stamp their boots into your life, not so?
And F. said, Iím not sure youíre right, Aya. I thought about this a lot
in jail, too. And I tell you this. Itís not easy to tell you but I say
this from my heart. Would I not have gone out to throw stones if we were
less right and they were less criminal? Iím not so sureÖ I donít knowÖ
This is stupid, and that is stupid. This oneís small, and thatís one
too. Itís the same thing. Itís similar. From the human point of view, as
the little person, not the State, itís the same. Itís similar. Very
In the background we kept hearing gunfire and ambulances, and the
teargas, although distant, reached us and once in a while we had to stop
talking and wait until our lungs and throats cleared. And I was looking
at F. and thinking how mature and amazing he is. And how he speak to me
in Hebrew and in English and uses my languages with this fluency heíd
achieved in his three years in jail, and I still canít speak enough
Arabic to converse with him, and thought this is terrible, really
terrible, although thatís really another matter.
And Iíll tell you another thing, F. stepped into my thoughts. That
soldier doesnít even hate the guy whose blood heíll be shedding. Thatís
how you say it, no? Shedding blood. Beautiful words. He kills because
his buddies do it and he can. Because itís allowed, itís legal. And itís
considered doing good. And everyone does it. And everyoneís happy. And
happy with him. But thatís not because he hates. He doesnít kill out of
hatred. Perhaps after he kills, he hates. But he doesnít kill out of
hatred. He kills because he likes to kill, and he likes to be with his
But the child throwing stones doesnít throw them at just anyone, I
insisted. Not at me. Only at the soldier. At the settlers. At whoever
came along and took his life. And the soldier shoots people who have
done nothing to him. Only because theyíre Palestinians. And thatís
And he said, thatís true, a little racism, but only a little. I agree
with you that there really is more racism in your society than in ours.
But still most of what those soldier do to us is not because of racism I
think but more because of their buddies. The fun. What they learn in
school. Because itís considered really worthwhile. And gives one
And I said, but F., would you throw stones at anyone or just at
He chuckled and said, did you notice how you contain me, how you
understand and justify me? And what about them, the Israeli soldiers?
You donít understand them. Why do you understand me, no matter what, and
Itís like youíre taking a side, but the opposite one. Because youíre
saying any Palestinian is right, and any Israeli is guilty. Thatís
racism too, a bit, isnít it?
And I thought how he, from this place of his, could look and contain all
that breadth, the breadth that I donít possess, and see the humanity
that is in every person, whoever that person may be, whatever that
person might do. But then again I thought this is his privilege, to
contain whoever harasses him and attacks him and robs him, I donít have
that privilege. I who do not belong to the victimized people at this
point in history.
For me only judgment remains. And so I do. In every cell of my body.
Judging those young Occupation soldiers with all their ringing meanness
and their callousness and their mothers who do not prostrate themselves
on the road to keep them from going, and the teachers who nurture in
them the will to carry out this injustice and this malignant normality
with which normal people do what everyone does because that is what
everyone does no matter what.
And I said, thatís right. I have a side. But itís not the way you
explain my side. I mean, my side does not come from belonging anywhere.
And itís true that my side is not axiomatically and automatically, the
Jewish Israeli people, really not. But nor is it the Palestinian people
just because it is Palestinian. Itís not about nation or race or gender
or ethnic belonging. Itís about whoís the victim.
At this point in history you are the victim.
Palestinians, at this point in history they are the victim. Not the
Jewish Israeli people.
So thatís my side. The victimís side.
He thought about it for a moment, and then smiled and said, so Iím glad
itís like this, and affectionately touched the head of one of his little
brothers. We ate and drank in silence for another while and from afar,
the clouds of teargas and the bullets which both of us forgot about, and
about the potential casualties and the loss all dripped into everything
like drops of sadness.
Aya Kaniuk. Translated by Tal Haran.
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